Sixth Circuit: Ohio Republicans Can’t Defund Planned Parenthood (Updated)

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Sixth Circuit: Ohio Republicans Can’t Defund Planned Parenthood (Updated)

Imani Gandy

“This victory is critically important for tens of thousands of Ohioans across our state that rely on Planned Parenthood for care and education each year."

UPDATE, March 12, 2:54 p.m.: The full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a Republican-backed law to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio after a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit rules against the law in 2018.

An Ohio federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court order blocking a law that would have stripped Planned Parenthood clinics in the state of family planning money used to provide health-care services to people with low incomes.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Planned Parenthood and ruled unconstitutional a law that would have effectively defunded the health-care provider.

Gov. John Kasich (R) in February 2016 signed into law a measure that would have stripped Planned Parenthood of $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds, and diverted that money to health-care clinics that don’t perform abortions and don’t contract with organizations that provide the medical procedure.

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The GOP-backed law would have barred Planned Parenthood from providing health care and educational services through six federal health programs, none of which are related to abortion care. These include the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program and access to free screenings for sexually transmitted infections. These programs are of particular benefit to people of color, those with low incomes, and LGBTQ people.

Weeks after Kasich signed the bill into law, Planned Parenthood officials filed a lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction to block it. Planned Parenthood argued that the law infringed on its First Amendment rights by denying state and federal funds “because of–and in retaliation for–their constitutionally protected advocacy for abortion rights and affiliation with other organizations that also advocate for abortion rights and/or provide abortion services.”

The district court sided with Planned Parenthood.

Applying the unconstitutional conditions doctrine—a legal doctrine that bars conditioning a person’s receipt of a governmental benefit on that person waiving a constitutional right—the district court determined that the anti-choice law impermissibly conditioned funding under programs unrelated to abortion based on a recipient’s forgoing exercise of its First Amendment rights to free speech or association, and forgoing provision of abortion services protected by the Due Process Clause.

The state appealed to the Sixth Circuit, but the Sixth Circuit sided with Planned Parenthood.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Helene White—a George W. Bush appointee—wrote that the law “violates Plaintiffs’ due process rights by imposing unconstitutional conditions.”

White was troubled by the reduced access to health care that would result if Ohio could condition the provision of public funds on forgoing abortion services. White noted that clinics would no longer be able to provide health-care services for free: “Thus, as a condition of retaining access to abortion free of undue governmental interference, Ohio women must [forgo] the extensive and subsidized access to health services under federal programs that they previously enjoyed,” she wrote.

“Although Ohio women do not have a right to the programs, they do have a right not to have their access to important health services curtailed because their major abortion providers opted to protect women’s abortion rights rather than yield to unconstitutional conditions.”

Reproductive rights advocates applauded the decision.

“We are thrilled that today’s decision will safeguard our patients’ access to care,” Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, said in a statement.

“This victory is critically important for tens of thousands of Ohioans across our state that rely on Planned Parenthood for care and education each year. Our patients deserve to have their health care come before political agendas; this isn’t about politics, it’s about access to health care.”